We have been eating grains since biblical times and it has only been the last ten to twenty years that we have seen a rise in gluten sensitivity and related illnesses. Diseases such as Celiac and Gluten Intolerance were once unheard of. Today 1 in 30 are said to have issues with gluten. It is to the point where your local grocery has aisles dedicated to products labeled gluten free. Some see this gluten free lifestyle as a health food fad, but there is evidence to support the idea that there are valid and lifesaving reasons to be gluten free. To understand why gluten is major problem and driving force behind the gluten free lifestyle, we have to look at how gluten came into our diet in the first place. Back in the days of Moses, society transitioned from hunting and gathering food sources to growing and harvesting grains and herding animals for food. Humans went from eating mostly animal proteins, to eating mostly cereals, grains and carbohydrates. Villages were growing wheat, barley, kamut and faro then processing it into porridge and breads. This was the first introduction of gluten on a regular basis into the human body.
Along with gluten, the agricultural revolution brought cereals, dairy products, fatty meats, refined sugars, salted foods and oils. Even back then, this diet was disastrous. Researchers studied the teeth and bones of these early farmers and found that they had shorter lifespans, more infectious diseases, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies than their ancestors. The cereal grain based diet appears to have been the culprit.
Fast forward to the industrial revolution, we have steam-powered mills with machines designed to make refined flour with longer shelf lives. This change provided the opportunity to make flour widely accessible across the globe.
To put this into perspective, an unknown number of generations of people were hunter-gatherers up until the arrival of agriculture. 500 generations then relied on grains and cereals. We have had 10 generations since the Industrial Age, and only two of them have grown up with highly processed fast foods. With each generation, gluten has become more prevalent with more of it mass-produced and sprayed with pesticides to reap higher yields. The grains we eat today are nowhere near the type Moses ate. They are hybridized grains with higher amounts of gluten than the human species has ever seen before. This is a result of modern day agricultural practices with the goal of producing more grains, flours and cereals to meet the demand for more quick and easy processed foods.
The signs that human consumption of gluten is a health risk have existed as far back as the 2nd century A.D when the first diagnosis of Celiac Disease occurred. Again, in 1950, a Dutch doctor theorized that the cause of Celiac was wheat gluten after he noted celiac children had improved when wheat was scarce.
The science behind gluten sensitivity is simple. Gluten is a term for a mixture of small protein fragments called polypeptides, which are found in grains and cereals. There are two classifications of gluten, prolamines and glutelins. The most trouble is caused by prolamine gliadin. It triggers inflammation in those with gluten intolerances, and launches the immune response and intestinal damage associated with the Celiac disease.
Essentially, the indigestible lectin in the protein fragments seep out of the gut and into the bloodstream where the immune system is overwhelmed attempting to ward off the intruders. Some people experience bloating, constipation and diarrhea. At times, they may have no significant gastrointestinal symptoms. Others will endure an autoimmune reaction referred to as Celiac disease that leads to major degradation of the intestine.
Today gluten is in everything imaginable, from salad dressings to potato chips. If we are ingesting large quantities of gluten with every meal, it is no wonder we are getting sick. It’s becoming an epidemic, but it’s one we can slow down and eventually halt. We need to change what we eat and how we eat. It starts with real food, vegetables, fish, meat and fruit. It’s like Susan Powter says, “If it doesn’t grow that way, don’t eat it.”